2022: Brian Majerus
The Minnesota Pork Board recognizes Brian Majerus of Lakefield, Minnesota, as this year’s Swine Manager of the Year award recipient.
Some people are born with the natural ability to manage others and lead well. Brian Majerus is one of those individuals in the swine industry, with a humble countenance and unwavering integrity, he leads his small family-oriented team to ensure the animals they care for are comfortable and healthy and a safe, wholesome pork product is displayed on the consumer’s plate.
Small Project, Big Venture
Majerus grew up on a dairy farm only three miles from where he lives now in Lakefield, Minnesota. He enjoyed working on the farm with his family and continued to do so following graduation. Shortly after getting married in 1991, the dairy farm shut down operations in 1996 due to lack of resources and opportunity for growth. From there, Majerus worked with a local custom manure business, which is where he first had interactions with the swine business.
He and his wife soon moved from their house in town to an acreage down the road, which happened to host an old pig barn on the property. After providing some TLC to the barn and revamping its systems, an integrator in the area placed their pigs in the barn, starting Majerus’ journey with pig farming.
“The acreage had a pig barn and a man who wanted to put pigs in it,” stated Majerus. “It was extra money, and I liked working with the pigs. I didn’t know it would turn into anything more at the time.”
It wasn’t long before Majerus built his own 2,500-head double-wide finishing barn, and from there his love for the pigs and industry grew. Soon after, he became a grain terminal manager and bought another 4,000-head site. The workload of managing the elevator and both sites became too heavy, so he chose to leave the elevator and helped manage other barns in the area, which is how he got involved with Mark and Stacey Soleta.
Originally, the Soletas wanted an extra set of experienced eyes to help in the barns and show other employees the ropes of pig farming. What started out as small tasks here and there evolved into Majerus performing chores and truly managing the barns. He has been with the Soletas in their wean-to-finish barns ever since.
In His Blood
Majerus recalled always wanting to be around animals. Good or bad, he loves the challenge of waking up every day not knowing what he’ll be confronted with.
“It’s in my blood. I couldn’t see myself going and sitting in a factory all day, every day.”
Perhaps it’s true the work runs in his blood, as his 27-year-old son, Dylan, now works alongside him in the barns. Following high school, Majerus found a site located close to Dylan’s college so he could earn money doing chores early in the morning and after classes in the evening. Dylan worked as a power mechanic for a period, but the love of working with pigs caught up with him as well, leading him to head nursery barn operations for the Soletas.
Majerus knew his son had a knack for working with pigs from a very young age. After building his first barn and receiving the first group of pigs, he asked Dylan – who was only ten years old at the time – to spread feed on the mats for the pigs to eat. Upon arriving at the barn later that night, Majerus walked in to find his son had pulled smaller pigs from the pen and placed them under a heat lamp because they needed the extra care.
“I think that was one of my proudest moments because I didn’t ask Dylan to do anything but spread feed for the pigs, but he saw what needed to be done and did it without being asked. He went above and beyond anyway because it was the right thing to do,” Majerus stated wholeheartedly.
When asked what he finds most rewarding about his role on the farm, Majerus said, “It’s hard to pick out one thing, but it is really rewarding to be able to work with my son and people I enjoy being around. If you don’t enjoy your job and can’t have fun with your job, you need to do something different. In every job you will have bad days, but if you can’t say you like doing it, you need to find something different to do.”
It is well known the people one works with can make or break how much an individual enjoys their job. In Majerus’ opinion, “the people you work with are the ones who make you look good as a manager,” because they’re putting in all the work at the base level. If everything at the base level of an operation isn’t well-functioning, nothing else will fall into place the way it should, either.
Along with his son, Majerus works alongside another caregiver and the Soletas, who recently employed their son who graduated last year. Though every person has a set role on the farm, each individual has the cross-training to be able to step in whenever necessary.
“If someone wants a week off, I can easily step in and do chores,” explained Majerus. “We are so in tune with each other and the farm that we can adjust to changes on the fly very easily.
I can go from sorting pigs, to hauling manure in the tractor, to fixing feed lines. We all respect each other and have clear communication.”
The trust between employees, manager, and owners is cultivated through clear communication channels fostered through the years. Proper management from Majerus daily provided a healthy business and thriving culture, allowing all involved with the barns to feel comfortable with each other and the work that needs to get done.
Majerus admitted, “No one wants to disappoint anyone, so we all hold each other accountable. If there’s an issue, we hash it out in the barn right away which avoids any issue of holding stuff over people’s heads.”
The variety involved in his job is one of Majerus’ favorite aspects of it. Every day looks different, and he’s never doing the same thing. The farm consists of a small group of people running a family-oriented business, so he wears many hats: caregiver, repairman, manager, among many others.
Being a farm manager is no easy task and comes with sacrifices. Majerus explained how he can’t simply turn the “switch” off when he leaves the farm at 5 p.m. “There’s no set time being a barn manager when it comes to dealing with animals. You must be ready for the phone call at 2 a.m. when it’s too cold or the electricity went out during an ice storm. It’s a 24/7, 365-days a year job.”
Majerus is thankful to his family who has supported him in his endeavors, even through tardiness and missed events on occasion due to tending to the pigs.
Outside of pig farming, the Soletas also crop farm and Majerus custom feeds and owns his custom manure business. Members of the farm each have their own niche and area of expertise which they combine together to make the business work.
Made for Managing
In every career change throughout his life, Majerus always found himself in a managing position after a short period of time. For instance, after only working at a grain terminal for one year, he was promoted to manager; in custom manure hauling, he went from being an employee to a manager; with pig farming, he started as a caregiver and quickly became a manager of many barns. When asked why he thought he always got roped into a managing position, he laughed and said, “I’m not sure why. I know people can do stuff better than I can.”
Perhaps this answer points to the primary reason for his climbing the ladder so quickly in all his endeavors. His humility for the work he does, paired with his ability to quickly foster positive relationships with all those he encounters, creates a well-balanced combination for a manager. He has a natural ability to read people which allows him to properly adjust to all circumstances and get along with everyone.
“Brian has dedicated his career to this industry,” stated Mark Soleta, owner of Soleta Farms.
“He’s committed himself to training his son and ours in animal husbandry along with others who have been a part of our operation. He is willing to go the extra distance to get the job done well.”
His philosophy as a manager is plain and simple: you can’t think you know everything, because every day you will learn something new. A manager must listen to the ideas of those they work with and be open to trying said suggestions. No growth is ever made on a farm by remaining steadfast in past practices and procedures; growth is achieved from constantly trying to improve.
The 2022 swine manager of the year’s humble leadership and strong work ethic have guided him through his career, driving him to pursue swine management head-on. Without managers like Majerus who lead by example, foster a positive work environment, and welcome employee proposals, the U.S. pork industry would not lead the world of agriculture like it does today.